“Too Good To Be True” – Avoiding Online Marketplace Scams

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These days online marketplaces are a convenient way to buy and sell goods. But with opportunity comes exposure to fraudsters and scams. When you see an item on one of these platforms that seems like a great deal, there’s a chance the “seller” doesn’t actually have anything to sell – it’s a fake post designed to get you to pay for something they have no intention of sending you.

First-Hand Experience with a Marketplace Scammer

I came across several new golf clubs on a marketplace app. The posts were all for brand new complete sets of name brand clubs, with a bag and head covers, all for around $78 with free shipping.
too good to be true offers in an online marketplace
Right away, I knew it was too good to be true, but I wanted to see how the scam worked.

After messaging one of the sellers to verify that the set was still available, I attempted to make the purchase. The seller messaged me back that they cancelled my order because it’s “different from my actual delivery time.” They then asked me for my PayPal email address so that they could send me an invoice for the purchase.

I received a PayPal invoice for the golf clubs. However, the seller’s name on the invoice didn’t match up with who I had been messaging with. In fact, the invoice came from “Berkeley Hills Parents Association.” The company name, the individual name, the email address and the name of the person I had been messaging with were all different.

I played along and asked the seller about some of these discrepancies, and they messaged me back that this was their corporate PayPal account, and let me know that if I didn’t receive the goods, I could get refunded by PayPal. They sent several messages telling me to rest assured, and that I would not lose money.

Here are some samples of the conversation:

How This Scam Works

In this scam, the seller doesn’t actually have the goods they are supposedly selling. Their goal is to get you to pay the $78 invoice. They never send the goods, and you are left to pursue a refund directly from PayPal. They have either created the seller’s PayPal account themselves and take the money once you pay, or the account you are paying is a real account, but they have a separate scam they are running on that person to get them to send the funds. They say everything that they can to convince the buyer that it is a legitimate sale, and even add some pressure to act quickly before the great deal expires.

What Happened Next

Ultimately, this seller concluded that I was not actually interested in buying and cut off communication. A few days later. I found a similar posting and tried again. Everything played out almost exactly the same way. The only difference this time was the reason for the switch to a PayPal invoice – this seller claimed they had reached their cap on this particular marketplace app. Another seller claimed that the credit card bound to the platform is restricted and will be unlocked after 15 days. While every reason was different, each had the same end goal – to conduct the transaction through a PayPal invoice.

Warning Signs – What To Keep An Eye Out For

  • Unreasonably Low Price

    A new complete set of golf clubs can easily run over $1,000.00, and shipping them brings a large expense as well. Why would someone sell a set for $78.00 with free shipping?

  • Platform Switch

    An item is posted for sale on a platform, but when you try to buy it there, they say they can’t fulfil the order on that platform and ask for a PayPal account to send an invoice.

  • Invoice Details

    Take a close look at the name, address, and email address on the invoice. Do they match up with the name of the person you have been communicating with?

  • Sales Pressure

    If a seller tells you that you should go ahead and make the purchase because if you don’t receive the goods you can get a refund from PayPal, that’s a red flag. They make references to a company or a corporate policy – this is designed to make you feel a sense of comfort.

  • Seller profile

    Making a fake profile is hard work! Keep an eye out for telltale signs. All of the sellers that I communicated with had a generic profile picture, only one friend/connection, and their profile name in no way matched the name or email address on the invoice.

  • Screenshots

    Another interesting aspect of this process was that all sellers asked me to send them a screenshot of the invoice once I had received it. Unusual requests like this should raise red flags.

At the end of the day, the old adage holds true: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

Be aware of the details when ordering something online, and if red flags pop up, it may be best to continue your search elsewhere.

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